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City of Ember DVD Cover Art

City of Ember DVD

The lights are going out in the City of Ember, a time-limited underground haven created some 200 years ago by the higher-ups of humanity in a world on the brink of disaster. Meanwhile, many of its literally and figuratively in-the-dark citizens don't suspect a thing. The only wise ones are two plucky teenagers (Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway) who are devoted to finding--with or without the help of the cagey Mayor Cole (Bill Murray)--the exit from Ember. Screenwriting credit for CITY OF EMBER, a refreshing fantasy film based on the first novel in author Jeanne DuPrau's sci-fi/adventure series for young adults, belongs to none other than Caroline Thompson. She's a silver screen veteran of family-friendly otherworldliness who's collaborated on many of Tim Burton's most definitive projects, and indeed she's brought to this live-action sophomore effort from enthusiastic movie-geek director Gil Kenan (MONSTER HOUSE) a miniaturist sensibility reminiscent of the condensed and simply plotted eccentricity of CORPSE BRIDE and A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. In stark contrast to some of the more epically turgid fantasy films released in the wake of Harry Potter's first outing, EMBER harks back to the modestly scaled ethos of cinematic spectacle typically embodied by the whimsical adventure movies made for children in the 1980s. When the film's farfetched premise meets its unadorned storytelling to unfold in a neatly contained, nearly real-time episode, it renders the image of ordinary children traversing an architectural phantasmagoria with the kind of paradoxical patina of fluffy-yet-provocative fantasy that can stimulate the imaginations of both kids and adults. The movie's neon-filamented aesthetic, a post-apocalyptic pastiche of industrialization, is sometimes evocative of German expressionism. Still, including cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobiet's kinetic tracking shots, Kenan's film is not without its 21st-century elements.
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